Toward the end of a whistle-marred first half Saturday at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Quincy Pondexter, the Washington Huskies’ senior scoring leader, was sent to the floor by Washington State’s Xavier Thames. Although at least half of the 10,000 fans in the building responded to the knockdown with a roar of outrage, Thames’ foul went unseen by the three men who count the most.
The no-call turned out to be a blessing for the Huskies – a reminder that if they were going to respond to the visitors’ aggression, they’d be wise not to wait for the assistance of the officials.
“Our team really took it personally,” Pondexter said after the Huskies’ second-half display of self-assertion in the basketball version of the Apple Cup fueled a 92-64 victory. “With me being the leader, they felt that was really disrespectful. They wanted to make sure we weren’t going to get punked, so to say, in our house.
“For the guy to come down and kind of level me a little bit, it really opened our team’s eyes into what kind of game we had on our hands. We realized we were in a war, and we had to fight for each other. From then on, I think it really helped us.”
Equating any basketball game with war is overstating things, but Pondexter’s tumble really did symbolize how the Huskies were humiliated in the first half.
Washington State brought a swagger into Hec Ed that would be the envy of the Cougs’ football team. The visitors not only made themselves comfortable, they played the role of party crashers not especially concerned with the residents of the house.
“How confident they came in, that got us fired up,” said Huskies guard Venoy Overton. “They came in our house flagging their jerseys and playing way aggressive. That kind of turned us.”
Before Thames’ throw-down move on Pondexter, Cougars freshman Reggie Moore – a Rainier Beach High product who has known Overton since their days in Seattle’s AAU leagues – followed up on a ferocious right-hand slam by preening in front of the fans.
“Young freshmen,” Pondexter said with a smile. “Unless you’re LeBron James, I wouldn’t advise that to add motivation to another team, especially at their home. It’s something you learn as you get older. Now I’m speaking like I’m a 50-year-old grizzled vet, but you learn. You live and learn.”
As for Lorenzo Romar’s take on the Cougars’ brash attitude, the UW head coach underscored the obvious.
“We noticed,” said Romar, who added that he had no particular objection to the emphatic way Washington State imposed itself on his team in the first half.
“I don’t know if you’re thinking that’s bad or good,” Romar continued, “but those guys came to play. There were laying their stake right there, that’s all they were doing. I didn’t take it as ‘these guys are a bunch of brash, arrogant guys.’ I didn’t see that at all. They were out there competing. They were going to let us know: ‘We’re coming after you, and you’ve got to fight back.’”
The “fight,” such as it was, never escalated into mayhem, though there were a couple of moments when an exchange of punches appeared imminent – such as when Pondexter and Thames both were assessed technical fouls with 4:43 remaining in the first half.
“It got a little chippy,” pointed out Pondexter, usually the least combustible player on the court. “A guy said something and another kid got in my face. He pushed me in the chest and I slapped his arm away. The ref handled the rest.
“That’s my first career technical. I’ll always remember it.”
Trailing the Cougars by four points at the halftime break, the Huskies got even – and then some – by ignoring the chippy stuff and devoting their energy to the high-speed transition game that ought to be the team’s identity. The pedal-to-the-floor pace begins, of course, with defense, and then hinges on the discipline to box out under the basket and pull down the rebound.
Washington’s domination of the second half can be explained by its ability to control the boards. The Huskies outrebounded WSU, 30-16, over the last 20 minutes. It was a comprehensive team effort. The big men, Tyreese Breshers and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, held their own in the lane, while Overton and Isaiah Thomas took turns grabbing the long rebounds that put the Huskies in motion.
Midway through the second half, the Cougars were so spent running to catch up with the fastbreak that they had little energy for the mind game that initially raised the ire of the Huskies.
In any case, Romar finally can breathe a sigh of relief after a pair of contests that found him coaching against two former UW associates who also happen to be among his best friends: Seattle University’s Cameron Dollar and the Cougars’ Ken Bone. The affection Romar holds for Dollar and Bone did not translate into beautiful basketball. To the contrary. The Huskies’ blowout of Seattle U. on Tuesday was rife with pushing and shoving – 78 fouls were called – and Saturday’s intrastate collision with WSU was contentious as any Apple Cup game in the fall.
Which is fine with Romar.
“A lot of times in sports people want to make a big deal of, ‘Well, a scuffle broke out.’ If you’re competing, that’s probably what’s going to happen, in any sport. Neither team was going to go down without fighting, that’s all.”
The Huskies on Saturday won the fight that never devolved into an actual fight, but keep this in mind: They’ll be required to travel to Pullman for a rematch on Feb. 27, when the task of replicating the raw emotion that sparked their comeback on Saturday will be more difficult.
What’s the deal? Why the disparity between the proud and feisty home team and the consistently indifferent road team?
The Huskies’ Thomas pondered that question and shrugged.
“You can tell me,” he said, “better than I can tell you.”